Why Space Colonization should be a Social Endeavour
Please Note: This article was originally posted February 24th, 2017 on Medium by James Rhule
Understanding that human capability to travel through space is an ever-increasing field. A field that’s now fuelled by commercial ventures like SpaceX has hit due time to have a social discussion about the ethical ramifications of space travel on Earth and society. Travelling to the unknown frontiers of Mars or some other planet will cost a lot of money and take a lot of time, both to get there and to establish a viable settlement. Given the current rate of propulsion technology innovation, it will be quite a while before the technology improves to offer faster and cost-effective “commute” times to and from established colonies of Earth. So when we factor in the expected start of Mars colonization in about 5–12 years along with the state and trajectory of Earth’s environment, a new planet may offer a lot more long term promise than domestic life back Earth-side. Sure, the conditions will be severe at first. With things like Crispr technology and other interventions like artificial electromagnet fields, flora can be developed and help transform the atmospheric conditions of mars. All the while, Earth is still set to pass the 2-degree warming point, producing an exponential rate of climate disasters and 100-year storm events and climate refugees, not to mention resource depletion and scarcities. It’s this impending instability that makes space travel start to be an ethical issue worth discussing and asking some questions about.
Who gets to leave the planet? And Why should they be allowed to go?
Some would argue that the technological push to colonize is mainly funded by private investments and corporations; therefore, those that can afford it should be able to just buy a ticket and skip off through the cosmos. But given how our economy runs, on (dirty) energy, there’s a fundamental issue. There are a handful of industries that you can be wealthy in and not explicitly destroy Earth’s environment. Except the facts remain: the more affluent you are, the more you consume and deplete the common environmental resources provided by the interconnected ecosystem. Most human activity negatively impacts the environment. Those at the top of the commercial hierarchies often bear more than the lion’s share of the blame and benefits of violating the environment for economic growth and profit, both by professional position and the corresponding level of leisure. This, like the corporate drive to space, is a common understanding. It’s with the advent of a colonization effort that it becomes more critical now than ever, that we don’t let the rich buy free tickets of the planet especially when they are the cause of the soon to be uninhabitable conditions of it. There are only a couple solutions to this potential inequality: a) socialize space exploration as an international endeavour or b) require companies to vet the potential colonizers on a scale of degradation impact.
a) Social space exploration
There are international coordination and collaboration efforts in the development of space technology, but they are siloed because of things like national defence and private telecommunication satellites. Unifying space as a collective frontier to be explored as an international effort reduces redundancies in experimentation and observation, removes sole access from one state or another and makes the amount of funding allocated more effective in producing technological advancement. A more interconnected network would make much of the professional and hard infrastructure of respective space-faring nations more open in their operation and more linear and streamlined in their development. The primary barrier is geopolitics and the disunity of nation-states. The use of geosynchronous satellites for military coordination and secure communications is the primary reason that space travel and exploration is dominated by the world’s military leaders and, by extension, the disjointed nature of space programs. The best example of international cooperation in space is the International Space Station (ISS), which houses international crews built from collaborative component development between Russia and America. The International Space Station is the minimum that a coordinated effort of space exploration can achieve. Still, given the current geopolitical climate, it’s also the best we can hope for. The lack of Chinese nationals being permitted on the ISS only outlines how economic and military opposition politics stymie space exploration and international coordination.
This issue also rings true to many of the other problems on our planet. The lack of a truly international community, in the sense that a community provides and sustains it’s members, only harms the global potential. This ideological and practical disconnect allows for the discrepancies, redundancies and adversarial behaviour to damper the development of human capability. This has left the gates open for the type of destruction soon to be felt from climate change and the subsequent social and natural phenomena in response. The lack of a global organization needed to properly explore space is just like the lack of organization required to keep Earth as a viable home planet.
A socially funded colonization effort could best be populated by a voluntary lottery that chooses optimal genetic and educational variables for life on another planet and for space travel. By ranking the adaptability of the human and their potential benefit to a new community, this would ensure that further space settlements are designed with a model for long-term success and have a developmental advantage to growth on their new homeworld.
b) Degradation impact assessment
In the likely event that space travel is dominated by private ventures, colonizing missions should require a degradation assessment. This assessment would measure the impact on the planet any given person has made given their socioeconomic standing, profession, or investments. Weeding out the people that have disproportionately and knowingly destroyed Earth as people who shouldn’t have the opportunity for a second chance on another planet while others suffer for their actions here. Space travel is a scientific horizon, and those that lack the consideration and insight into the most fundamental natural science system, the biosphere, in favour of greed, should not be given a chance to escape the impact that they perpetuated. There’s no ignorance of the impact. If you can afford to destroy the planet, you can afford a basic ecology education.
Whatever route humanity takes to move on to a new planet, we must first develop a sense of unity and stewardship, so that planets last longer and human growth is sustainable. Hopping to planet to planet to avoid environmental collapse is like the hopping from area to area to avoid blight, just like we see on Earth now. Let’s not bring that reckless, short-sighted behaviour into space, it’s uncouth.